The fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief includes the right to change one’s faith to another or to no faith at all. This right includes the ability to manifest one’s beliefs through expression intended to persuade another individual to change his or her religious beliefs or affiliation voluntarily.
In India, state level anti-conversion laws prohibit conversion based on force, allurement, inducement, or fraud; however, some contain such broad definitions that they can be interpreted as prohibiting any kind of conversion, whether consensual or not.
Anti-conversion laws have gone into effect in seven states: Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Jharkhand. In 2018, USCIRF released a report, Limitations on Minorities’ Religious Freedom in South Asia, which discussed the trend of anti-conversion laws in India. In some states, anyone engaged in conversion must register with local government authorities.
In 2018, anti-conversion laws were enforced predominantly against Muslims and Christians engaged in proselytization and also limited the freedom of religion or belief of others to discuss, consider, and ultimately convert to other religions. Also, religious minority leaders and adherents faced intimidation and arrest under the guise of anti-conversion laws.
For example, in May 2018, authorities arrested 11 people for conducting a group prayer in a home in Jharkhand, and four others were arrested nearby after locals complained about the group conducting a Christian marriage ceremony. Two months later in the same state, 25 Christians were arrested due to accusations of induced conversion after they conducted a group prayer at the home of a Christian. While nine were released, the remaining members of the group were charged under Jharkhand’s anti-conversion law and remanded to judicial custody while their charges were prosecuted; these cases were ongoing at the end of the reporting period.
In 2018, the media dedicated significant coverage to inflammatory allegations of an organized campaign to coerce Hindu women to marry Muslim men and convert to Islam. In March 2018, the Supreme Court of India set aside a 2017 decision by the High Court of Kerala that had annulled the marriage of a woman by the name of Hadiya; originally from a Hindu family, Hadiya converted to Islam and married a Muslim man in 2016.
The Kerala High Court determined that she had been subject to an organized coercion campaign. The Supreme Court reversed and upheld the marriage after being satisfied that she had freely granted consent. The Hadiya case prompted the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s national counterterrorism investigative agency, to launch an investigation into the existence of a coordinated campaign to force women to convert and marry.
In October 2018, the NIA concluded, after numerous investigations, that there was no evidence of such a campaign. Some Hindutva groups have sought to convert those born Hindu who had converted to another faith back to Hinduism through “homecoming” conversion ceremonies (ghar wapsi). In some cases, these conversion ceremonies reportedly involve force or coercion; however, it is often difficult to ascertain whether such conversions take place voluntarily or forcibly. There continued to be reports of such ceremonies in 2018, although their number and nature were impossible to confirm.
For example, in April 2018, a Hindutva group was alleged to have physically assaulted a Dalit man in Uttar Pradesh who had recently converted from Hinduism to Islam and, according to reports, forced him to undertake ghar wapsi to convert back to Hinduism.
Video accounts of the incident, although somewhat [Some] state level anti-conversion laws . . . contain such broad definitions that they can be interpreted as prohibiting any kind of conversion, whether consensual or not unclear, show a group of men removing the skull cap from the man’s head and shaving off his beard. In October 2018, also in Uttar Pradesh, a family who had been Muslim for generations was reportedly forced to convert to Hinduism; 13 individuals from the family were involved.
Based on these concerns, in 2019 USCIRF again places India on its Tier 2 for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, egregious” standard for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). While the Indian government repeatedly has denied USCIRF access to India, the Commission welcomes the opportunity to openly and candidly engage with the government—including the chance for a USCIRF delegation to visit India—to discuss shared values and interests, including international standards of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights.